Race of Champions (1988-2018): 30 years of spectacle and racing fun

  • ROC, Race of Champions, 2015 London
  • Race of Champions, 2017 Miami, Sebastian Vettel
  • Race of Champions, 2015 London
  • 1988 Race of Champions

Thirty years ago, in 1988, the Race of Champions (ROC) was organized for the first time as a special event for rally drivers to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the WRC drivers’ competitions and as a memorial event to remember prematurely lost rally ace Henri Toivonen.

Today, the Race of Champions is probably the most popular international motorsport event which is gathering together racing drivers from various racing disciplines from all over the world to race against each other in identical cars.

ROC, Race of Champions, Fredrik Johnsson

Fredrik Johnsson is the ROC organiser from the beginning

‘Champion of the Champions’ title for nineteen drivers

The best among them are carrying the title Champion of the Champions. The list of winners is a proof how strong event is the Race of Champions because it features the names of nineteen (until 2017) racing aces and racing legends who have numerous world championship titles on their accounts, not counting all other championship titles collected across the world.

From the first Champion of the Champions Juha Kankkunen, who won in 1988 and one more time in 1991, to the 2017 winner Juan Pablo Montoya, the ROC winners list contains an impressive collection of names: Stig Blomqvist, Andrea Aghini, Didier Auriol, Francois Delecour, Carlos Sainz, Colin McRae, Tommi Makinen, Harri Rovanpera, Marcus Gronholm, Sebastien Loeb, Heikki Kovalainen, Mattias Ekstrom, Filipe Albuquerque, Sebastien Ogier, Romain Grosjean, David Coulthard and Sebastian Vettel. We have to mention Michael Schumacher also, who was the six-time winner of the Nations Cup competition inside the ROC, but he never won the individual ROC title.

Eight world champions at the inaugural Race of Champions in 1988

Eight world champions at the inaugural Race of Champions in 1988

Eight world rally champions at the inaugural ROC meeting

The inaugural ROC meeting was first organized in 1988 by former rally driver Michele Mouton and Fredrik Johnsson from IMP (International Media Productions). The first event took place at the Autodrome de Linas-Montlhery near Paris.

All eight world rally champions between 1979 and 1988 came to the event, making it the real Race of Champions. The participants were Bjorn Waldegard, Walter Röhrl, Ari Vatanen, Hannu Mikkola, Stig Blomqvist, Timo Salonen, Juha Kankkunen and Miki Biasion. They were using six different rally cars, including Group B beasts which weren’t in use in the WRC anymore. In the final, Juha Kankkunen beat Timo Salonen, taking the Henri Toivonen Trophy.

Barcelona hosted Race of Champions in 1990

Barcelona hosted Race of Champions in 1990

The ROC visited Nürburgring, Barcelona and Madrid

In 1989, Nürburgring hosted the Race of Champions and Stig Blomqvist was the best among eight rally champions. In 1990, when the ROC took place in Barcelona, the event had been expanded with the International Rally Masters contest, designed to allow drivers who were not champions yet to qualify for the main event. Kenneth Eriksson was the first IRM winner while Stig Blomqvist repeated the ROC victory.

In 1991, the event took place in Madrid. Juha Kankkunen became the Champion of the Champions for the second time, beating Didier Auriol in the final.

The 1992 Race of Champions was the first event at Gran Canaria

The 1992 Race of Champions was the first event at Gran Canaria

Moving to Gran Canaria in 1992, staying there until 2003

In 1992, the event found a permanent home for the next 12 years at Spanish island of Gran Canaria. The first winner at Gran Canaria was Andrea Aghini, proving that drivers who have not WRC title on his tally could beat WRC champions. Two more drivers who did that were Francois Delecour in 1995 and Harri Rovanpera in 2001. Didier Auriol was the four-time winner at Gran Canaria. Other winners were Carlos Sainz, Colin McRae, Tommi Makinen, Marcus Gronholm and Sebastien Loeb.

During a Gran Canaria period, the Classic Masters contest was introduced in 1994 and discontinued in 1999. The Rally Masters contest was on a programme until 2000. The ROC Legends and Junior Rally Masters were also part of a programme between 1999 and 2003, with Stig Blomqvist and Francois Duval as the multiple winners.

Team USA (Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Colin Edwards) won the ROC Nations Cup in 2002

Team USA (Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Colin Edwards) won the ROC Nations Cup in 2002

Nations Cup was introduced in 1999

In 1999, the Nations Cup was introduced and it’s still a part of the ROC event. The Nations Cup brought circuit racing drivers and motorcycle drivers into the competition. In the beginning, teams had three drivers from each category (rally, circuit, moto). The first winners were Tommi Makinen, JJ Lehto and Kari Tiainen (Team Finland).

Two years later, non-rally drivers were allowed to compete in the main ROC event but the rally drivers retained their dominance and scored victories.

Race of Champions, 2004 Stade de France Paris

Since 2004, the Race of Champions is a stadium-based event

Leaving Canary in 2004, three events at Stade de France

In 2004, the Race of Champions left Gran Canaria and since then the event adapted its format to stadium-based tracks. The new venue in 2004 was Stade de France in Saint-Denis near Paris.

The change from gravel to tarmac circuits saw rally drivers lose their dominance and the first non-rally driver won the event. It was Heikki Kovalainen, who came to event as a champion of the World Series by Nissan. In the final, he beat Sebastien Loeb. Another change in 2004 was that Nations Cup teams had two drivers instead of three.

Race of Champions, Nations Cup, Sebastian Vettel, Michael Schumacher

Unbeatable duo – Sebastian Vettel and Michael Schumacher

Six consecutive Nations Cup wins for Schumacher, Vettel

After three events at Stade de France, the new venue in 2007 was London’s Wembley Stadium.In that event, Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel clinched their first victory for Team Germany in the Nations Cup.

In the next five years, the stadiums were changing (London, Beijing, Düsseldorf, Bangkok) but the Nations Cup winners were always the same – Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel. In the individual chase for the ROC trophy, Schumacher reached final two times but lost to Mattias Ekstrom both times.

David Coulthard's celebration at ROC Barbados, 2014

David Coulthard’s celebration at ROC Barbados

David Coulthard came from retirement to victory

The 2013 Race of Champions was planned for December at Bangkok’s Rajamangala Stadium for the second time but the event was cancelled due to political unrest in Bangkok.

In 2014, all contestants traveled to Bushy Park at Barbados island. David Coulthard became the Champion of the Champions and the first ever winner who is actually the retired racing driver.

Race of Champions at Miami's Marlins Park

2017 Race of Champions at Miami’s Marlins Park

Montoya as the first non-European ROC winner

In 2015, again in London, Sebastian Vettel finally became the Champion of the Champions after six wins in the Nations Cup. In the next event, the ROC Miami in January 2017, Vettel won Nations Cup all-alone because his teammate Pascal Wehrlein was injured in a crash. Juan Pablo Montoya became the ROC winner in Miami, as the first ever winner who is not from Europe.

For the 2018 Race of Champions, the King Fahd International Stadium in Riyadh has been chosen as a new venue and the ROC became the first international motorsport event to be held in Saudi Arabia.

Prince Khalid, Prince Abdulaziz and Frederik Johnsson at the draw for the Race Of Champions in Riyadh

The 2018 ROC is the first international motorsport event in Saudi Srabia

Race of Champions winners

YearLocationWinnerNations Cup winners
1988MontlheryJuha Kankkunennot held
1989NürburgringStig Blomqvistnot held
1990BarcelonaStig Blomqvistnot held
1991MadridJuha Kankkunennot held
1992Gran CanariaAndrea Aghininot held
1993Gran CanariaDidier Auriolnot held
1994Gran CanariaDidier Auriolnot held
1995Gran CanariaFrancoi Delecournot held
1996Gran CanariaDidier Auriolnot held
1997Gran CanariaCarlos Sainznot held
1998Gran CanariaColin McRaenot held
1999Gran CanariaDidier AuriolFinland (Tommi Makinen, JJ Lehto, Kari Tianinen)
2000Gran CanariaTommi MakinenFrance (Gilles Panizzi, Yvan Muller, Regis Laconi)
2001Gran CanariaHarri RovanperaSpain (Jesus Puras, Fernando Alonso, Ruben Xaus)
2002Gran CanariaMarcus GronholmUnited States (Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Colin Edwards)
2003Gran CanariaSebastien LoebAll-Stars (Gilles Panizzi, Cristiano da Matta, Fonsi Nieto)
2004Saint-DenisHeikki KovalainenFrance (Jean Alesi, Sebastien Loeb)
2005Saint-DenisSebastien LoebScandinavia (Tom Kristensen, Mattias Ekstrom)
2006Saint-DenisMattias EkstromFinland (Heikki Kovalainen, Marcus Gronholm)
2007LondonMattias EkstromGermany (Michael Schumacher, Sebastian Vettel)
2008LondonSebastien LoebGermany (Michael Schumacher, Sebastian Vettel)
2009BeijingMattias EkstromGermany (Michael Schumacher, Sebastian Vettel)
2010DüsseldorfFilipe AlbuquerqueGermany (Michael Schumacher, Sebastian Vettel)
2011DüsseldorfSebastien OgierGermany (Michael Schumacher, Sebastian Vettel)
2012BangkokRomain GrosjeanGermany (Michael Schumacher, Sebastian Vettel)
2014Bushy ParkDavid CoulthardNordic (Tom Kristensen, Petter Solberg)
2015LondonSebastian VettelEngland (Jason Plato, Andy Priaulx)
2017MiamiJuan Pablo MontoyaGermany (Sebastian Vettel)

Photos: raceofchampions.com,

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